BA Ancient History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The American Civil War

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER21001
Credit rating 20
Unit level Undefined
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


The American Civil War was the defining event in the history of the United States, a national catastrophe in which 750,000 lost their lives, but a democratic triumph resulting in the abolition of slavery and the granting of citizenship to African Americans. It continues to be a subject that fascinates historians and the public alike. What were the causes of this conflict? Why was compromise impossible to maintain? What was the impact of war upon ordinary people and families? Was it possible to bring the two sides back together into one union? How does the experience of Civil War continue to shape America in the present?  This module looks at the key causes, consequences, events, personalities, and interpretations of the American Civil War era, roughly 1850-1877. It is NOT a course about military history, although it does look at the social impact of war (especially on the home front in the North and South) and the reasons why so many fought and died between 1861 and 1865. It makes use of visual material (including the award-winning documentary by Ken Burns, The American Civil War) and features cinematic depictions of the War where appropriate.



  •  To allow students to explore major themes in American history and culture in the Civil War era (roughly 1850-1877)
  • To investigate the impact of Civil War upon different social groups and upon the wider social, economic, and political development of the United States
  • To evaluate the changing dynamics of race, gender, and class relations in the United States during the exigencies of war
  • To acquaint students with a wide variety of primary sources appropriate to the study of the period
  • To introduce students to some of the most important scholarly debates in the field.

Teaching and learning methods

2 lecture hours + 1 hour seminar      


Syllabus, reading lists, mock exams, etc.


Students may conduct original research in the JRUL’s e-newspaper holdings and other relevant databases.

Knowledge and understanding

  • On completion of the course successful students should be able to demonstrate:
  • An understanding of the main developments and themes in American history and culture during the Civil War era
  • An understanding of the differing effects of the war’s impact on different social groups in American society
  • Basic familiarity with some of the important scholarly debates relating to the Civil War era
  • The ability to analyse in depth a range of primary sources and place them in historical context

Intellectual skills

  • A capacity to find, use and critically evaluate a variety of primary and secondary source materials relevant for interpreting American history and culture during the Civil War era
  • An ability to write a properly researched, coherent research paper with a sustained argument and respect for scholarly conventions on some aspect of the Civil War era

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Development of research and writing skills
  • Development of verbal skills in oral presentation and debate in seminars
  • Cultivation of critical faculties in evaluating evidence and arguments
  • Group work in seminars

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Historiographical Review 

Feedback methods

Written feedback on essays; the opportunity to discuss an essay plan; additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

The core text will be Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor, eds., Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction (2010, third edition).

Ira Berlin, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War

Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, eds., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War

Robert Cook, Civil War America: Making a Nation, 1848-1877

Eric Foner, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction

William Freehling, The South versus the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War

Susan-Mary Grant & Brian Holden Reid, eds, The American Civil War: Explorations and Reconsiderations

James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom

James McPherson and William Cooper, eds., Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand

Peter Parish, The American Civil War

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Brown Unit coordinator

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